Looming green light for fracki

Looming green light for fracking rouses billionaire opposition

The anti-fracking cause, which has long united a broad swathe of Karoo residents, has a powerful new backer – Johann Rupert, one of the country’s richest men. But can the movement win out against the patience and deep pockets of the oil companies, a government desperate for results and local residents who see in fracking a brighter and more prosperous future?

Looming green light for fracki

Fracking - in-article RGB


The positive signs South Africa’s Mineral Resources minister, Susan Shabangu, is giving to fracking has managed what few thought possible – a broad-based, non-partisan community coalition centred on a single issue that unites township residents and Johann Rupert, for a long time among South Africa’s richest men. Rupert, whose family wealth currently sits at no. 6 on the Sunday Times Rich List, has vowed that fracking will face a well-funded legal battle if government gives it a green light, as many now expect.

The controversial shale gas fracturing technology has produced nearly instant oil wealth – and an end to foreign energy dependency – in parts of the USA, but opponents contend that it has nowhere in the world been tested on a long-term basis. According to anti-fracking groups, there is no adequate proof that fracking can produce safe energy without increasing the risks of earthquakes, groundwater pollution and other forms of serious damage to ecosystems and the tourism and farming economy that depends on these.

The Ruperts, who retain substantial land holdings in the area proposed for exploratory fracking and prospecting by Shell and other energy behemoths, have vowed the road to fracking approval will be as steep and winding as it is in their power to make it. And that power, for the family behind a large number of the world’s luxury goods sales, is considerable. Johann Rupert’s legal team contends, for openers, that a lack of adequate consultation by the Department of Mineral Resources means that key property rights guaranteed in the Constitution have already been violated.

Shabangu has indicated that her department is keen to expedite the development of South African shale gas, which the state sees as key to solving the energy troubles that have beset the national grid since the beginning of load shedding in 2008. To this end, several exploratory licences have been granted. One, to Shell, covers over 95 000 square kilometres. By some measures, this is one fourth of the greater Karoo. Rupert has repeatedly stated that, perhaps unlike some in the broad anti-fracking coalition, he is by no means opposed to the technology per se. However, it must be proven to be safe before the first wells are sunk: “I’m not a troglodyte…We just want to know they are doing it in a safe way. If they they do not abide by the law and by the constitution then we’ll have to remind them that we do have a constitution” Rupert said.

Read more about fracking 

DA condemns ‘kleptocratic’ State grab of 20% of new fracking ventures October 2013

SA fracking activist wins R1.5m international environmental prize April 2013

David Kramer joins debate on fracking in the Karoo December 2012

[polldaddy poll=”7468865″]